Foreign-Owned Clinics Face Gov’t Scrutiny

More than 60 private health clinics in Phnom Penh have been ordered to comply with new government regulations or face immediate closure, Ministry of Health Secretary of State Ung Phyrun said Monday.

A June 11 letter sent from the Ministry of Health to the municipal government listed 63 foreign-owned clinics that the ministry says do not comply with regulations overseeing private clinics that were passed into law by the National Assembly in October and signed by King Norodom Sihanouk on Nov 3.

Under the new regulations, clinics must be owned by Cambo­dians, have at least 20 patient beds and have a medical staff of at least 80 percent Cambodians.

Foreigners must present a professional certificate that has been approved by their embassy to the ministry. Foreigners also have to give a copy of their criminal record from their home country and a letter from the Ministry of Interior stating the length of their visas.

Other requirements include abiding by Cambodia’s labor and investment laws, Ung Phyrun said.

“Please take crackdown action and close private anarchy clinics that don’t have licenses from the Ministry of Health,” the letter stated.

The letter lists clinics owned by Chinese, Vietnamese and French expatriates. The European Dental Clinic, International SOS and Naga Medical Center are also among the clinics the ministry wants to shut down.

The crackdown, meant in part to provide more opportunities for young Cambodian doctors, is to take place nationwide, Ung Phy­run said.

“The ministry has given notice three times since October,” he said. “But now when we close them, then they hurry up to get their license.”

Naga owner Dr Jean Claude Garen is in the process of selling his clinic to a Cambodian. After that, the clinic probably will continue operating as before, he said.

When Garen first received word of the closure in a letter re­ceived in May, he thought he would be forced to shut down. Now, things with the ministry look more hopeful.

“We had a meeting last Fri­day,” he said. “It is diplomatic.”

Ung Phyrun said the government is leaving “a gate open” for clinics to follow the regulations. There are some exceptions, he said. For example, clinics with foreign doctors that specialize in fields such as heart surgery, psychology or plastic surgery that are “needed” in Cambodia could be exempted.

Many young Cambodians who have studied medicine cannot find a job. The government has only so many jobs, and those positions usually pay less than $20 a month, Ung Phyrun said.

He said the quality of health care will not diminish if the number of foreigners here decreases.

“Other developed countries have more research and they have more facilities,” he said. “But for gen­eral diseases, we can cure as well.”

Professor Ka Sunbaunat, head of Academic Affairs at the Univer­sity of Health Sciences, said many of the school’s graduates are of high quality. But the quality of Cambodia’s general practice “is still lower” than Thailand’s, he said.

“We are still in a very difficult situation,” he said. “We still try to upgrade their knowledge.”

Phnom Penh Governor Chea So­phara said action on the closings has not yet been planned by municipal po­lice. He said SOS, in particular, will not be closed, “because everyone needs it.”

“We still have to check which have licenses and which don’t,” he said. “But some private clinics have a bad record, and we will close them.”

The Australian embassy runs the Aus­tralian Embassy Medical Clinic, which was not designated for closure in the ministry’s letter. Nonetheless, Ambas­sador Louise Hand said she has sent a letter to the ministry protesting the order.

“We would be very, very disturbed at the diminution of the quality of health care for expatriates,” she said Monday.

(Ad­di­tion­al reporting by Michelle Vachon)


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